Coral identification can be confusing for beginners. That is why we created the Coral Hub and its associated resources – the Coral Finder Toolkit. What follows is our recommended recipe for cutting through the confusion and building your coral identification capacity. We call it our learning pathway.
Recommended Learning Pathway
The guiding principals:
Learn the see the genera and the species will come
Corals vary in shape, form and texture in response to their physical environment. This means many of the hundreds of coral species may exhibit more than one growth form. For the beginner this is overwhelming. Our approach is to first show you how to recognize coral genera, regardless of the growth form shown by their species. A solid visual understanding of genus level characters breaks the back of the problem.
Outlined below is our approach to the basics of coral identification. The Coral Finder acts as a translator between the observations you make underwater and formal scientific knowledge. It does this by providing direct links to the Coral Hub’s most relevant learning resources. This is how it works:
- Record your coral observations underwater using the Coral Finder noting the Coral Finder page number and the genus name. If possible take 2 photos – wide angle and close up using a scale bar.
- After the dive consult the Coral Hub genus index page select the genus you think you saw and consult the overview gallery to get a feel for the shape, form and textures associated with its species. Then consult the ID Tips section. If you feel unsure about your genus determination consult the similar genera section towards the bottom of the page and explore these alternative genus entries.
- Once you feel confident about you genus determination then consult the Vital Statistics section near the top of the page. Note the number of species and the Corals of the World volume and page numbers. Now you can consult the most relevant part of this 3 volume epic for species level information.
So how do you get to the point where you are confident to carry out the above identification workflow? The best way is to attend a Coral Finder Workshop because they provide mentorship to go with the tools we are about to describe. However the motivated person can easily teach themselves the basics using the following learning pathway:
- Read the How to Use & Glossary sections of the Coral Finder
- Browse the Coral Hubs jargon buster known as the Termigator
- Watch the 6 Coral Finder Toolkit training movies
- Watch the 3 Coral Finder Toolkit revision movies
- Get some field experience and practice the identification workflow outlined above
- Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 at least once so to pick up the subtleties you missed first time round
- Get more field experience and practice using the Coral Hub genus index to confirm your genus ID’s
- Once you have the basics under control you might consider just using the 3 Coral Finder Toolkit revision movies before field work as a warm up tool
- Better yet use the Self Testing resources provided.
- Finally, get hold of Corals of the World and start tracing you coral genus ID’s back to species level.
- Attend a Coral Finder Workshop – the expert tuition provided in these workshops distills and transfers decades of knowledge in a very short time frame. It’s the a great way too mature your understanding.
Time spent underwater is priceless
Your first dive or snorkel looking at corals on an Indo Pacific reef is one of the great experiences of the natural world. It can also be mind blowing for anyone trying to learn coral identification. The key message is to keep diving – yes, you will be daunted at first but the good news is that you already have the ultimate tool for solving this confusion – the human brain. Our brain and eyes are the most powerful visual super-computer system ever devised and can easily solve the basic problem of recognizing coral genera given a few conceptual handles to hang on to. The Coral Finder Toolkit provide those handles in the form of a graded learning pathway for the beginner to intermediate learner. But as we all come learn there is a great difference between book learning and the real world – so dive, dive dive and the cargo will come! Note: looking at corals in an aquarium can be very instructive but also misleading for beginners. Many corals grown in marine aquaria show unusual or distorted growth forms that do not closely reflect what you will see in the field. Don’t let that stop you from using these specimens as a powerful learning resource, but once you gain more field experience you will come to see how different looking aquarium raised corals can be.